There’s one way to boost the chances injured employees will thrive in recovery that most employers don’t think of.
It’s building relationships with the local doctors most likely to treat your injured workers.
This lays the groundwork for teamwork between you, the physician and your insurer to bring injured employees back to full health and productivity. It helps stave off the alternative — an adversarial relationship where the injured employee feels stuck in the middle.
Even if workplace injuries are rare in your organization, there’s value in getting to know local medical providers. Even one contentious claim can cost your organization considerable time and money.
Why build a relationship with a medical provider?
When an employee is injured, his or her physician decides if, when, and under what conditions the employee can return to work.
It’s a critical decision because studies show that the longer an injured employee is off work, the less likely it becomes that he or she will ever return. On the other hand, early return-to-work keeps employees active and engaged, helping them maintain psychological well-being, according to a Job Accommodation Network report . But when a provider has limited knowledge of an injured worker’s employer and working conditions, he or she might keep the employee off work longer than necessary. For example, a physician might keep an employee off work unnecessarily if the doctor:
- Doesn’t know you offer transitional, light-duty work
- Is uncertain about whether the employee will be safe from re-injury
- Doesn’t know who to call to get questions answered
All of these issues can be solved by helping the physician get to know you and your organization.
What does partnering with a physician look like?
In an ideal scenario, an injured worker’s employer, medical provider and work comp insurer work together to bring the employee back to health and productivity as swiftly as possible. Team members trust one another and hold one another accountable to do what’s best for the injured employee.
For example, say a school janitor hurts his back and won’t be able to do any heavy lifting for at least a few weeks. Because the physician knows the school will accommodate work restrictions and trusts he wouldn’t be given work that could cause re-injury, she allows him to return to work with restrictions that include limiting lifting to 20 pounds maximum and avoiding bending at the waist, pushing, pulling and squatting. Seeing this, the school puts the janitor to work doing lighter custodial duties such as dusting and dry mopping.
Had the doctor questioned whether the school would accommodate such a restriction, she might have chosen to keep him off work for weeks until his back was completely healed. This could have led the claims representative to question the doctor, with the injured employee not knowing who to believe.
When everyone’s working together as a team, injured employees don’t have to feel like they are being pulled in different directions. Communication is open and clear, so injured employees don’t feel like people are talking behind their backs. On the contrary, employees feel important and cared for knowing that there’s a team of people working to help ensure recovery.
How to connect with a local provider
Building a relationship with a local physician is as simple as calling a nearby clinic and requesting a meeting. Look for a physician who is board certified in occupational and environmental medicine. If no specialist is available in your area, find a clinic with a staff experienced in treating work injuries. In some cases, this may be a physician assistant, nurse practitioner or chiropractor.
You should know that while the laws in some states, such as Iowa, allow the employer to choose the initial medical provider, many don't. If this is the case in your state, you can only suggest that injured employees go to your preferred provider, and employees have the right to choose where to seek medical treatment. Because of this, you’ll want to build relationships with the physicians where employees are most likely to treat.
When you meet with providers, let them know:
- The types of work employees at your company perform. (If they can’t tour your facility, bring a video of the workplace to show them.)
- That your company offers transitional, light-duty work to accommodate work restrictions.
- That you care about your employees’ well-being and are committed to helping injured employees recover.
Ensure that the provider seems like a good fit for your organization, and shares your commitment to return-to-work.
If an employee is injured, here’s what you can do to help the treating physician and open the lines of communication:
- Call the clinic to let them know that an injured employee is heading there. Remind them that you offer light-duty work.
- Send along a Work ability/return-to-work form with every appointment.
- If you’re able, send along a list of light-duty jobs at your organization that might be appropriate given the employee’s condition.
- Provide contact information so they can easily reach you if needed.
Having a face-to-face relationship with a medical provider can make workers’ compensation claims less disruptive and, more importantly, lead to better outcomes for injured employees. Consider taking the time now to reach out to one or more providers in your area.
This is not intended to serve as legal advice for individual fact-specific legal cases or as a legal basis for your employment practices.